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In the consumer goods (CG) industry, the leaders in the retail execution space used to traditionally be the suppliers with the strongest market presence in the field.
The more feet you had on the street, the more you could extend your businesses’ reach, thereby increasing your customer engagement and ultimately sales conversations and upsell opportunities. Some of the best examples we’ve seen in the industry have been from the top beverage bottlers and food manufacturers. They created an almost FedEx-like matrix of reps and logistical deliveries extending their reach and connecting everyone in the field together.
While that model was fairly successful, the market is starting to move away from visit-only strategies to contact strategies, combining face-to-face visits with remote and digital contact. The shift in this paradigm is being driven by some recent changes in the market and the changing habits of consumers and customers.
2/3 B2B customers prefer digital means of contact
In a recent survey conducted by McKinsey, two out of three B2B customers stated that, post COVID-19, they wouldn’t want to receive face-to-face visits. When there is a visit, they would expect it to be on their terms and on their preferred channel.
These retailers are under increasing pressure to deliver within incredibly tight margins. When there is contact initiated by a consumer goods rep, they look to the rep to bring them valuable and timely insight to help them grow and operate more efficiently.This is what has driven consumer goods companies to start rethinking their execution strategy to move away from visits to multichannel contact. Interviewing retailers and shop owners pre and post COVID-19, some of the common asks I have heard are:
Outlet managers still consider sales reps to be their single source of truth. They look to reps to provide guidance on how to grow their business.
They also consider the sales reps to be custodians of competitive knowledge where they can share insights on how their peers are accelerating. They look to CG suppliers to help them understand what promotions sell best and what displays and materials can create more footfall in their outlets. Equally, they want to be able to pass real-time inventory information to their suppliers to make sure deliveries match the level of demand and avoid being out of stock or overstocked.
However, the problem is that these outlet managers are hardly able to engage with sales reps beyond face-to-face visits. Traditionally, increasing visit frequency would have been one way to solve this problem, but the challenge is that in addition to a retailer’s changing preferences, CG organizations are also under-increasing inflationary pressures.
In addition, retail execution budgets are likely to be among the first to be reduced in the CFO’s line of sight by 2023.
New channels don’t address all factors
Some CG companies have responded to this trend by enabling self-service for 24/7 ordering whilst others have enabled WhatsApp business communications for their reps to have dialogues with their customers. While the enablement of these new channels has helped to tackle some order-related issues, it hasn’t fully addressed some of the above challenges.
Further, these methods don’t quite offer a similar level of customer experience, warmth of engagement, or exchange of information as a face-to-face visit would.
Geographical market differences matter
This is down to a number of factors. Firstly, different geographical markets have different customer needs. When we move out of Europe and North America, the adoption of self-service declines. Outlet managers in countries like Brazil and Mexico take pride in their bargaining skills to negotiate the best price with suppliers.
In Asian countries such as India, we’ve seen shop owners with such strong relationships with their reps that the reps make allowances for them to contain their losses for damaged goods in their shops or support them with credit extensions.
On the other hand, whilst WhatsApp is a great instant communications channel, it’s standalone and disconnected from customer data. So, sales reps can’t access customer data or insights about the outlet, their order history or gaps and opportunities. Equally, the outlet managers have the challenge of organizing content and information coming through WhatsApp messages.
Implementing a multichannel contact strategy
This is where a true multichannel contact strategy comes into play, which allows sales reps to continue deepening their relationships with retailers in between face-to-face visits.
What’s needed at the heart of a successful contact strategy is an integrated retail execution platform – a platform that allows reps to get in touch with the customer on the customer’s channel of choice. This includes WhatsApp and WeChat, and simultaneously provides them with a 360-degree view of their customers as well as guided selling and content sharing capabilities. They can therefore have value-added conversations during remote interactions with prospects.
Having a 360-degree view of a customer is key in enabling sales reps to personalize their engagements with customers. You would want reps to have full visibility of financial and order information, so they can provide customers with individual pricing and customize their bulk order and fulfillment options or extend their credits.
The other key capability to consider is enabling reps with easy access to relevant content. They can therefore guide outlet managers on shelf displays and set up promotions during the sales interaction.
Equally, outlet managers can share real-time info about their inventory counts with sales reps, communicating floor and shelf limits so that reps can tailor the orders and keep the outlet managers up to date with any supply chain delays.
Having an integrated multichannel platform at the heart of your contact strategy will significantly increase the frequency and quality of your customer engagements. In turn, increase your visibility into the quality of your store execution whilst also reducing the cost to serve.